Author: Ayushi Malik


It has been rightly said by Nelson Mandela that no one truly understands a country until they have spent time in its prisons. The lowest citizens of a country should be used as the standard by which it is judged, not the highest.[1] Every nation needs prisons because no society can be without crime and criminals.[2] No society, regardless of how developed or underdeveloped, is immune to its snares of the social phenomenon of crime. The Latin words for “seize” and “cage” respectively gave rise to the English words “prison” and “gaol.” Prison serves as a metaphor for punishment. Removing criminals from society aids in reducing crime. A modern prison organization’s primary duties are custody, care, and treatment. In India, the prison system serves two purposes: to punish offenders and to rehabilitate them to facilitate their reintegration into society after release. Nevertheless, achieving these objectives can be difficult due to crowding, resource shortages, and other issues. The Indian Constitution’s Seventh Schedule lists item 4 under the State List as a state subject that deals with prisons and their administration. The Prisons Act of 1894 and the respective state governments’ prison manuals govern the management and administration of prisons, which is solely the responsibility of the state governments. Therefore, it is up to the states to alter the existing prison laws, rules, and regulations.[3]


A prisoner complained about a jail issue in a letter to the Supreme Court, which the court accepted as a writ petition in the case Shri Rama Murthy vs. State of Karnataka[4]. In this case, the court used the opportunity to talk about the main issues with Indian prisons and to offer solutions. The Court had observed that although these are the major issues that require immediate attention, the Indian Prisons are still having difficulties. The following discussion focuses on a few of India’s prison systems’ biggest issues that have attracted attention in recent years.


It is well known that our prisons are overcrowded. Overcrowding of prisons raises danger by increasing the risk of disease, noise levels, and surveillance challenges. Aside from this, when prisons are overcrowded and congested, inmates’ lives are more difficult, and staff members’ jobs are more difficult. Rampant Overcrowding has a negative impact on prisoners’ health and hygienic conditions. sections 436 and 436-A of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 must therefore be implemented. Plea-braining, as permitted by section 265-A, may also be used to shorten the time that cases are pending and ease prison overcrowding. It was also recommended that a sincere effort be made to use clauses like plea bargaining, fast track courts, and Lokadalats, as well as the direct or virtual appearance of the accused before the court. Another method of tackling the condition of overcrowding is by releasing the prisoners on bail or parole.


Delay in a trial is indeed a problem for the prison system. When trials get postponed, defendants who are awaiting trial are imprisoned for a long time without being found guilty of a crime. It leads to prolonged incarceration that paves the way for overcrowding of prisons. An overcrowded prison has difficulty keeping order and security, unhygienic living conditions, and tension-inducing conditions among the prisoners. Additionally, it puts a strain on the prison system’s limited space, inadequate staffing, and tight budgets. It further violates the basic human rights of the prisoners. 


The practice of custodial torture is quite common in Indian prisons Although third-degree torture by police is now prohibited as a result of the groundbreaking decision in the D.K. Basu vs. State of West Bengal[5], brutal violence is still frequently present inside prisons. Nilabati Behera vs. State of Orissa, 1993[6] raised questions regarding custodial violence. The Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010, was introduced to address the violence committed while in custody. The proposed law’s goal was to provide punishment for torture perpetrated by public employees or by anyone else who tortures someone else with their permission. The State of Tamil Nadu experienced the most recent incident of custodial violence in the year 2020. The police arrested Jayaraj and his son Fenix for questioning regarding their alleged contravention of the COVID-19 lockdown guidelines set forth by the Indian government. They were killed as a result of the police’s sexual assault and torture. The two were beaten by members of the police staff alternately for seven hours during the torture. The brutality was increased by the fact that they were left naked. The century-old Indian Prison Act of 1894, needs to be thoroughly examined and replaced with a new law that would reflect Independent India’s thinking as well as our constitutional eliminate custodial violence and ill-treatment. 


Many prisons lack adequate medical facilities. Because of this, the majority of the prisoners receive no care. Every man has the unalienable right to sanitation, which cannot be taken away by restricting his freedom. Sadly, inadequate latrines, urinals, and bathrooms caused by overcrowding, improperly built night latrines and urinals inside barracks, a general lack of the flush system in latrines, and a lack of sewer lines on the prison campus negatively affect the hygienic conditions in prisons. The conditions are significantly worse for female prisoners who also have to deal with their monthly menstrual cycles and those who are pregnant or nursing. They are not given adequate, hygienic sanitary pads, additional supplies of towels, or disposable items, which increases their susceptibility to serious illness. It represents yet another ambiguous realm of prison life that adversely affects the health and well-being of those who are imprisoned due to the lack of adequate medical staff and other crucial healthcare amenities in correctional facilities.  


Over the past four to five years, there has been an exponential increase in violence and police brutality. It illustrates the lack of legal provisions in our legal system to hold law enforcement officials accountable for their cruel tactics and use of torture by arguing that they were acting in the course of their official duties. Even though third-degree torture by police is prohibited following the landmark decision in the D.K. Basu case, violent crimes within jails are nevertheless common. The victim in the Nilabeti Behara case passed away as a result of the police’s abuse and assault. After Bennix and Jayaraj died while in the care of Tamil Nadu, the public became outraged and demanded the creation of a strong system to stop police abuse. These occurrences brought to light the lack of anti-torture legislation in India, and calls have been made for the implementation of legislation to stop such incidents in the future. Deaths in custody brought on by police brutality and torture are against the core principles of the Indian Constitution and, consequently, violate several fundamental laws that the Constitution guarantees.


India’s prisons are authorized to employ 49030 people at different levels; currently, about 40000 employees are working there. There is around a 1:7 ratio between the inmates and the jail personnel in the Indian prison. In India, that means there is only one prison guard available for every seven inmates.


Prison personnel extortion and guard corruption are widespread issues in correctional facilities worldwide. These issues are expected given the significant control that guards have over prisoners, but they are made much worse by the poor pay that guards typically receive. Incarcerated individuals pay guards in addition to their salaries in exchange for drugs or preferential treatment. Rich meals, luxurious accommodations, and cell phones were provided to affluent prisoners in certain Indian prisons, while their less fortunate counterparts endured filthy living conditions. In Indian jails, the most frequent sources of corruption are the food services.


Legal aid is only accessible during the trial, not when the inmate is taken before the remand court, for people in India who cannot afford to hire a lawyer on their own. The lack of legal assistance until the point of trial significantly diminishes the value of the nation’s system of legal representation for the poor, as the majority of prisoners, both in lockup and in prisons, have not been tried. The demanding work that University of Delhi academics and law students have been doing in the area of legal aid at the Tihar Jail was emphasized in a seminar. This involved educating the inmates about the law, raising awareness among the prison administration, assisting specific inmates with legal matters, and assigning paralegal personnel to assist with both convicted and pending convicts. To find deficiencies and inefficiencies in the jail administration, the seminar recommended more involvement from Lok Adalat and ongoing prison surveillance. At last, it was implied that legal reform would be necessary and that it would be integral to the entire legal assistance system.


Imagine entering a 6-by-2-foot room with no windows, buzzing fluorescent lighting, and no source of fresh air. This only represents a portion of the grotesque reality that prisoners face. It has been rightly said that buildings are first moulded by us, and then they mould us. Today’s prisons in India are the epitome of primitive architecture, built with the express purpose of imprisoning and torturing the criminal mind for even the smallest acts of misdemeanour. It denies inmates any chance of changing, and they fall victim to the cruel cycle of incarceration and recidivism. India’s 75-year journey towards progress is hindered by the lingering horrors of unchanged prison architecture. Even though problems in the prison system are complicated and cannot be solved by a single solution, it is unquestionably true that architecture contributes to making these places into effective rehabilitation facilities. As part of the Modernization of Prisons Project, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently requested that states and Union Territories modernise their prison systems.

In the 1700s, prison reform advocate Jeremy Bentham developed the idea for the Panopticon, a circular facility with cells placed at its periphery and a central surveillance core to keep an eye on the prisoners. The inmates were subjected to constant surveillance without being aware of it, which was intended to instil a sense of self-discipline in them. It was a notorious example of power and hierarchy. A new sort of aspirational and rehabilitative institution is needed in our society to give those who have been so dehumanized by our criminal justice system their human dignity back. The idea of prisons as centres for reflection and recovery rather than as places isolated from urban life for punishment must be urgently reconsidered. The physical environments and programs should be built in a way that helps residents reintegrate into the community and represents an investment in people. In place of cruel punishments such as solitary confinement, the facility could use human mediation that is therapeutic and well-trained in response to problems. The change in architecture can encourage more frequent community interaction by providing opportunities for classes, teaching, learning, etc. An enhanced level of communication between residents, personnel, and the general public can establish a community-based surveillance system. A reimagined facility can assist in progressing down a path of healing, reconciliation, and restoration. A radical decarceration can be sparked by the Reimagined Facility itself. A design that contributes to the idea of a redesigned prison—a setting that promotes human dignity, and heals and rebuilds communities.


The Indian Constitution makes no mention of a specific provision for prisoners’ rights. However, because a prisoner is still a person while incarcerated, they are also entitled to some of the rights listed in Part III of the Constitution. For a human to be convinced does not make him any less human. He is still a human being, and as such, he deserves the same level of respect. The Supreme Court of India in many cases has emphasized that it is imperative to acknowledge that a prisoner is not only a natural person or a legal person but also a human being. When someone is found guilty of a crime, it does not make them a non-person whose rights can be taken away at the whim of the jail authorities. Some of the rights of the prisoners are as follows:

A. Right to bail: According to the Indian Constitution, everyone who has been charged with a crime has the right to apply for bail, except in several circumstances in which the accused is deemed to be a flight risk or a repeat offender. The Supreme Court ruled in Babu Singh v. State of U.P.[7] that failing to grant bail to an accused individual without sufficient grounds would violate the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. 

B. Right against hand-cuffing, bar fetters and solitary confinement: The use of handcuffs has been deemed to be arbitrary, illogical, and at the very least, inhumane on the surface. It has been determined that it is unjustified and in violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In the case Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[8], the court ruled that handcuffing someone must be authorized by the police and is never appropriate as a method of punishment. The court further ruled that women, children, and those who have committed non-violent crimes shouldn’t be restrained with handcuffs. The court further ruled that handcuffs should only be applied as a last resort and should be taken off as soon as possible. In a landmark case, the court determined that the use of handcuffs without cause is against a person’s fundamental rights. The court further ruled that women, children, and those who have committed non-violent crimes shouldn’t be restrained with handcuffs. When a prisoner from Tihar jail filed a writ petition in the supreme court challenging bar fettering, the matter of bar fettering was brought before the court where it was ruled that, like whipping, bar fetters are generally considered barbaric and must be abolished. The court additionally ruled that solitary confinement, cellular segregation, and slightly modified versions of the same procedure are inhumane and unreasonable.

C. Right against inhuman treatment: The court determined that the use of third-degree methods by the police violated Article 21 in Kishore Singh v. State of Rajasthan[9]. The Court ruled that putting prisoners in bar fetters or imposing long-term solitary confinement based on flimsy offences like loitering in the facility, acting impolitely and uncivilly, or tearing up his history ticket—violates Articles 14, 19, and 21 because it is barbaric and inhumane.

D. Right to a fair and speedy trial: Justice delayed is justice denied. Regardless of the offence for which a person is imprisoned, every prisoner has a right to a fair and speedy trial. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution gives rise to the idea of the right to a speedy trial. A quick trial is seen as a crucial component of the delivery of criminal justice. No one should be forced to endure prolonged, cumbersome trials since doing so not only violates the rights of the person being tried but is also regarded as a complete denial of justice.

E. Right to reasonable wages in prison: When inmates are required to labour in a prison during their incarceration, they must be paid a fair wage. The wage rate should not be below the minimum wage rate. In Mohammad Giasuddin vs. the State of Andra Pradesh[10], the Supreme Court instructed the State to consider this consideration when finalizing the regulations for paying inmates’ wages and to give wage policy retroactive effect. The Kerala High Court ruled in one of the landmark cases that labour obtained from inmates who were not adequately compensated was forced labour and hence violated the provisions of the Indian Constitution.

F. Right to education: Given that the right to education is one of the country’s fundamental rights, every citizen should have access to it. It is necessary to offer the proper kind of education along with education. The court attempted to restrict the type of employment and instruction given to jail inmates. It instructed the state government to investigate the type of job and education offered to the inmates and make sure that the task is neither intellectually nor mechanically boring nor otherwise of a similar character while carrying the label of physical labour. The court additionally ruled that convicts who are interested in pursuing higher or more advanced education must also be provided with the opportunity to connect via correspondence courses.

G. Right to receive books and magazines inside the jail: The prisoners have the right to receive books and magazines inside the prison. The Bombay High Court gave verdict on a case in which the superintendent of the Nagpur Central Jail set a limit of 12 books that would be available to detainees. However, he lacked the authority to make such choices. The court ruled that of all the restrictions on freedom, denying people access to knowledge, education, and the pursuit of happiness is the most bothersome and least justified. The development of the intellect cannot be stopped absent extraordinary and justified circumstances. It is common knowledge that books of instruction and acclaim for all people have been written in prison.


Some numerous challenges and issues require our urgent attention in the complex web of India’s prison system. Overcrowding, trial delays, custodial torture, inadequate healthcare, corruption, and a lack of proper legal aid, among other pressing concerns, plague the system that strives to serve both punitive and rehabilitative objectives. Our prison architects have long forgotten that buildings should not only restrict but also rehabilitate, and it is past time to reinvent the very structures that house our convicts. These difficulties present a bleak image of a system in desperate need of change and humanization. Despite these challenges, the Indian Constitution, which emphasizes the fundamental rights of every human being, ensures that prisoners are not deprived of their dignity and human dignity. The need for  India’s prison system reform is evident. This calls for humanizing architectural changes that prioritize rehabilitation over punishment and recognize that prisoners are also entitled to basic human rights. Reimagining prisons as rehabilitation and reintegration centres is not only a moral obligation, but it is also a step toward a more equitable and humane society. It is a road that, if followed with zeal and compassion, can lead to a brighter future for both inmates and society as a whole. As we move forward, it is critical to remember Nelson Mandela’s remarks that a country may be judged by how it treats its lowest citizens.

[1] A quote by Nelson Mandela (no date) Goodreads. Available at: (Accessed: 27 September 2023).

[2]“A critical study of prison reforms in India” – pen acclaims. Available at: (Accessed: 27 September 2023).

[3] India – the penal system. Available at: (Accessed: 27 September 2023).

[4] Rama Murthy v. State of Karnataka (1997) 2 SCC 642

[5] DK Basu v. State of West Bengal (1997) 1 SCC 416

[6] Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa and Others (1993) 2 SCC 746

[7] Babu Singh and Others v. State of UP (1978) 1 SCC 579

[8] Sunil Batra vs. Delhi Admn., (1978) 4 SCC 494

[9] Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v. State of Rajasthan (1981) 1 SCC 503

[10] Mohammad Giasuddin v. the State of AP (1977) 3 SCC 287